celebrate education - brought to you by the amarillo globe-news

Teachers' stories of experience

More than 250 of the roughly 2,000 teachers employed by the Amarillo Independent School District have at least 25 years of experience.

They are rare at a time when most teachers leave the business within the first five years.

A few of the veteran teachers in Amarillo ISD shared some secrets behind a fulfilling career in education.

Called to the classroom

Warren Whittington, 67, started teaching 45 years ago when South Georgia Elementary School was a brand new campus.

He moved to Eastridge Elementary School in 1970 and now teaches English as a second language.

Whittington is retiring this year.

"I just have felt a calling," Whittington said. "I enjoy helping others and doing things for people."

Whittington followed his father's advice early in his career and befriended the custodian and a teacher who had taught at the school for years.

If he needed something, he could ask the custodian and the veteran teacher could answer his classroom questions.

Like any job, teaching has its good points and bad points, but a good attitude goes a long way, Whittington said.

"You have to love kids," Whittington said. "You want to help people. You must want to help them succeed and grow in life."

"I see so many people leave due to the fact they want to make more money," he said. "Don't let money be the main factor."

Whittington said the support he received from campus principals kept him in the classroom.

"If I wanted to try something new, if I saw something that needed to be done, the principal would say go for it," Whittington said. "My first principal made one statement that I think is so true: 'You are going to make mistakes. I will always support you, and we will overcome the mistakes that you make.'"

A 'student' teacher

Elaine Loughlin, a senior English teacher at Palo Duro High School, uses many differently strategies to reach her students.

Loughlin, who has taught for 37 years, discovered early on that effective teachers remain students at heart.

"I was highly motivated to learn as a new teacher," Loughlin said.

Loughlin attends training seminars and exchanges ideas with colleagues on ways to better motivate and educate.

Teachers in her department often spend the summer break in training workshops.

Loughlin's first teaching assignment was at an inner city, bilingual school in Holyoke, Mass.

The school promised to pay for her master's degree in exchange for a commitment to stay at the school.

"It takes a certain type of person to enjoy working hard," Loughlin said. "We enjoy the diversity. We enjoy the challenges."

Her first master's degree - she has two - taught her how to work with children in poverty and ways to teach struggling readers.

Loughlin eventually left Massachusetts and ventured to schools in Puerto Rico and Texas, teaching students of all ages.

"I didn't leave that kind of student," Loughlin said.

Loughlin doesn't try to teach every piece of literature. She knows her students will learn the most from literature they like best.

Her experience has taught her the importance of flexibility and having a sense of humor, she said.

Perseverance pays off

Mike Harter, a U.S. history teacher at Amarillo High School, landed his first job 40 years ago. He nearly quit his first year.

"I was incompetent," he said. "Every psychological problem gets magnified when you confront kids."

Harter wanted his students to like him. They tested him to see what they could do without getting in trouble, Harter said.

Harter returned for a second year simply to prove to himself he could teach, he said. He continued because he enjoyed teaching history and the students.

"I think you've got to like kids," he said.

"I got a better feeling for what I was doing, who I was dealing with and what I could do with them."

After about seven years, Harter felt at home with his profession. He continues to renew his lessons and to study history.

"There's just not enough hours in the day to do this right," Harter said. "You can never do enough and you can never teach enough."

Harter said he learned to speak from personal experience to keep students' attention as he covers major historical events.

He also learned that telling the story of America can get complicated to the point of confusion, so Harter simplifies as much as he can.

Teachers have to spend a lot of time in the classroom to gain confidence, perfect teaching methods and learn how to head off discipline problems, Harter said.

On the brink of turning 65, Harter still enjoys teaching.

"No, I don't want to retire," he said.

"I love this school."

Celebrate Education is a yearlong community project to encourage lifelong learning and help raise the education level in the Texas Panhandle.

calendar of events
  • January 11
    Kickoff of 2009 Program
    Find out what Celebrate Education is all about in this special section in your Sunday paper.
  • March 7
    Regional Spelling Bee, West Texas A&M University
    The annual Regional Spelling Bee will feature the top spellers from the Amarillo area. The top five winners will receive scholarship money ranging from $500 to $5,000 and the winner will travel to Washington, D.C., in June to represent the area in the Scripps National Spelling Bee.
  • Spring and Fall
    Amarillo Reads community-wide reading projects.
    Dates and details TBA
  • April
    Amarillo Education Matching Grants Program. Exact date TBA
  • April 10
    What's a Kid to Do Special Section
  • April 12
    What's a Kid to Do at the Amarillo Civic Center
    This event will focus on activities and camps for children to participate in during the summer..
  • May 8-29
    Beating the Odds
    A series of stories published daily in the Amarillo Globe-News during the graduation season that profiles people who have inspiring stories to tell about the degree they are about to receive.
  • May 12
    Ready for the Real World program at Amarillo Civic Center
    AISD juniors get training on what's going to face them in a little more than a year.
  • May 16
    Best and Brightest Special Section
  • May 16
    Best and Brightest Event at West Texas A&M University
  • Fall
    Discover College Day
    Fifth graders from area schools visit college campuses.
  • October 1
    Great Jobs Special Section
    Focusing on well paying jobs available in the area that people may not know about.
  • November 2
    Career Education Special Section
    Focusing on businesses and others in the community helping young people gain a career vision.
  • November
    Yes You Can Event
    Designed to help people gain information about the next level of education from GED to PhD. Date TBA.
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